Your eyes will adjust – just give it a minute.”
UC Health radiologist Dr. Bruce Mahoney, assistant professor of radiology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, takes a seat in the darkened room. The computer screen before him illuminates, revealing the electronic medical chart of his patient.
The chart contains rows and rows of images and notes, each with a story to tell from the past decade. But Dr. Mahoney, who specializes in nuclear medicine, doesn’t just see data — he sees the patient spring to life before his eyes.
He chooses a scan taken earlier this morning. The patient, he says, has cancer and has visited UC Medical Center today to find out if the treatment is working.
Dr. Mahoney also understands the personal nature of what he does — somewhere in the building, not far from where he sits, the patient whose body now appears on his screen is waiting nervously to hear what the scan has revealed.
“We try to read at least 90 percent of urgent scans in under an hour,” he says.
As he carefully views the image, Dr. Mahoney dictates comments into a small microphone to record what he sees.
“The small and large bowel appear normal period.” His fingers fly across the keyboard and move quickly through the other images, which seem to race along with the rapid movement of his experienced eyes.
Elsewhere in this darkened room, three other radiologists are also reading images. The room is silent, though every now and then the voice of an attending radiologist begins explaining a technique or pointing out a subtle abnormality to the medical residents and fellows who are studying under them. They cluster around a computer screen, the glow of the black and white images reflecting on their faces.
But otherwise, there are no phones, music or distractions – just the hum of the computers and the occasional low voice dictating an observation into a microphone.
While most people think of radiology as the practice of reading scans in a dark room all day — and truthfully, much of it is — they never see the nuance, the science and the humanity it demands.
Radiologists don’t interact directly with patients most of the time, but Dr. Mahoney feels like he knows them nonetheless.
“When you look up and see the patient’s name, when you see the patient’s age, you imagine that they might have children,” he says. “In the end, the scans are people. They’re not just pictures.”
Radiologists may not be the most visible medical professionals in the hospital, but they play critical roles in the care and lives of their patients.
In fact, radiology often marks the turning point in a patient’s medical journey. The reading room is where a suspicion turns into a diagnosis, where a question becomes an answer — and where treatment and recovery can begin.
“Often, we’re the first people to know good or bad news,” Dr. Mahoney says.
If it’s bad news, those patients often return time and time again for care, treatment — and more scans.
“It’s easy to feel like you know them,” he says.